Meckler, not heckler

The Adam Meckler Orchestra reinvents the concept of big band music

Grant Tillery

Most musicians are asleep at 9 a.m. on a Friday morning, but not Adam Meckler.

As Meckler ate his first bite of quiche at Patisserie 46, the Commodores’ “Easy” played overhead on the restaurant’s sound system.

For Meckler, between his whirlwind schedule and stringent health regimen, breakfasts like that are rare.

“I haven’t been eating breakfast, actually,” Meckler said. “I’m doing this thing where you fast for 16 hours every day. I’ve lost 27 pounds.”

Meckler assembled the Adam Meckler Orchestra in 2013 after finishing grad school at the University of Minnesota. While big band is synonymous with Duke Ellington and Count Basie, Meckler’s jazz orchestra takes cues from the likes of Maria Schneider, Bob Brookmeyer and John Hollenbeck.

The Meckler Orchestra will bring its nouveau big-band sound to small, intimate Studio Z on Saturday, for the Jazz at Studio Z: Winter Jazz Fest.

Local jazz upstart, Shifting Paradigm Records, will be the event’s host. The label signed the Adam Meckler Orchestra in late 2014.

In a combo-dominated era, big bands are somewhat of a dinosaur.

The format associates with old fogey’s nostalgia for the good-old days. In a time when limitless projects are the norm, the challenges of convening a large ensemble are oftentimes too cumbersome to do on an regular basis.

“[Big band] is not a widely pursued thing,” Meckler said. “It’s hard to get all the musicians together and find a place to rehearse. The music can take months to write.”

Even less common is a big band that comprises young people. The average age of the Adam Meckler Orchestra is about 30, and Chris Bates, the group’s granddaddy, is a shade past 40.

“The fact that Adam is fairly young and put this all together makes it a pretty intriguing project,” said Shifting Paradigm Records founder Zacc Harris.

About half of the band members were University students at one point.

The group’s 2014 debut, “When the Clouds Look Like This,” garnered unexpected national acclaim when it was listed among the top jazz albums in 2014 on iTunes.

The album starts with a lengthy drum solo from Adrian Suarez on “Busta Jones” and weaves through a musical narrative of hushed horns and brass bombast that’s punctuated with brief occasions of sparse minimalism, a difficult task for a 21-piece jazz orchestra. “Sinatra at the Sands” this is not.

“The head of jazz programming at iTunes sent me an email out of the blue, which is weird because that kind of stuff never happens,” Meckler said. “He must’ve come across it browsing stuff, and he sent me an email saying, ‘Your album is quickly becoming one of my favorite albums of the year, and I just wanted to touch base with you and say I knew nothing about you and your band, so I’m researching all about you now.’”

Landing on the list was a humbling moment for Meckler, who found himself among his idols in the top picks. “When the Clouds Look Like This” was flanked by works from modern jazz luminaries, including pianists Jason Moran and Vijay Iyer.

“[The list is] 30 albums, and it’s all the most famous jazz musicians — all the people I grew up listening to and studying — and [there’s] me,” Meckler said.

Meckler serves as both the orchestra’s conductor and principal trumpeter. His conducting style resembles that of a tamed, humbled Maynard Ferguson — the late trumpet virtuoso who is known for his flamboyant outlandishness on stage.

“It’s pretty hands off in a way,” Suarez said of Meckler’s conducting style. “[He] knows [his] music inside and out, so [he knows] exactly where to look — [it’s] a dance-driven approach.”

Meckler’s comport extends to his day-to-day dealings, like one time when a gig was rained out twice in one night.

“We had a main stage spot; we were set up and ready to go and then, ‘Crack, boom,’” Meckler said. “When we were about to downbeat, it started to downpour. We waited it out for a little bit, and it cleared up for a second. We were like, ‘1-2-3-4,’ and it rained again. It was tough to swallow at the time, but I tried to be Zen about it. We’re in it for the long haul; we’re not going anywhere.”

 

Adam Meckler Orchestra (Jazz at Studio Z: Winter Jazz Fest)

 

When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Studio Z, 275 E. Fourth St., Suite 200, St. Paul

Cost: $15

All ages